Thursday, April 26, 2018

Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye

Wizard for HireMy name is Ozzy, and my parents were kidnapped seven years ago. I've been living alone in the woods ever since, except for my robotic raven named Clark. I decided to try finding my parents and hired a wizard named Rin to help, although I've never actually seen him cast a spell. I found some tapes hidden in the cloaked house and discovered my parents were working on a way to control minds. They moved to these remote woods in Oregon to hide, but my home is no longer hidden. Someone broke in and ransacked the place! I can't go to the police, since the school discovered I strolled into the building without any records. I wish Rin could just cast a spell to find my parents, but he says it doesn't work that way. It still seems like it would be a lot safer than car chases, hiding from the police, and facing men with guns!

I was expecting a book full of spells and magic, but that's not what I found (Although Rin would disagree). Even up until the end, I kept wondering if Rin actually possessed the powers he claimed to own. A few amazing things occurred, but they could have been flukes or luck. Magic would have made things much easier, but I liked how the author kept it uncertain. The most magical part of the book was Clark. He was a talking robotic raven with independent thought. He saved the human characters a couple times, but his most endearing quality was his love for birds and metal objects. He wasn't shy about sharing his affection for the school flagpole and a trash dumpster. The whole plot was presented like a mystery, as Ozzy tried to uncover the truth about his parents. Living in the middle of the woods without electricity created problems, and having the police hunting him created more of them. Rin's eccentric character was helpful, and but his unusual thinking made his actions unpredictable. Imagine being in a high-speed chase, flipping off a mound of dirt, and landing atop a moving train. Luck or magic? The early part of the book didn't move along as fast as I would have liked, but overall I really enjoyed the story.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Demon Notebook #1 by Erika McGann

The Demon Notebook (The Demon Notebook #1)My name is Grace, and my friends and I just wanted to see if we could cast a few spells. We wrote them in a notebook, but none of them worked. Until... we tried using Rachel's new Ouija board. Una started acting very strangely, and the spells we had written down started to work in reverse order. James fell in love with me, a boy peed his pants, and a blizzard snowed-in our town. However, then we remembered our first spell... for the school bully Tracy to get hit by a bus. We don’t know what we’re doing, and we’re taking turns watching over Una. At first, we thought she simply couldn’t handle the stress, but now the problem may be worse than we thought. Her glowing red eyes are a big clue that something has gone terribly wrong!

This book told a story of young girls messing with powers they didn’t know existed. The first spell was written out of anger, but the other eight were just silly. The spells occurring in reverse order created a countdown to the most serious one and added some suspense. The girls were mad at Tracy, but they didn’t want her dead. Then, Una’s situation transformed her from a victim into an antagonist and really complicated the problem. Even though Grace was the main character, her friends took turns having more important roles in the plot. Adie was more timid, Jenny was more athletic, and Rachel was quicker to take action. Ironically, Adie stepped out of character during the climax to help save Tracy. The girls received support from a couple adults with an interesting back-story of their own. Mrs. Quinlan offered spells to dispose of the demons, but she made it clear that she would not take direct action in the conflict. I was a bit surprised when it took Mrs. Lemon so long to get involved, since she taught in school. Overall, this is a fun book and includes a sequel, The Broken Spell.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bounders #3: The Forgotten Shrine by Monica Tesler

The Forgotten Shrine (Bounders #3)My name is Lucy, and my pod has been sent to Alkalinia, a world of snake-like creatures. Admiral Eames says they're our allies, but Jasper was the first to suspect something sneaky's going on. Our virtual reality rooms seemed awesome until we realized we hadn't left them for a week! Later, we were hunting for a way to shut down the occludium shield when we discovered a secret room with a giant serpent named Serena. She fears the Alaklinians have forgotten their past mistakes and are on the verge of another war. Against whom? Jasper and I figured out our pod members are being secretly drugged, and something is happening to us while we sleep. Despite the admiral's order to stop, we've got to keep investigating our hosts. It would be a lot easier if Marco would stop inviting Jasper's little sister along!

I recommend you read the previous books in the series to understand what's going on with bounding, the many references to the Youli, and Jasper's special connection with Mira. I liked the mystery of this book's plot, as the kids tried to uncover the Alakalinans' plans. The admiral complicated things by ordering them to not mess up relations with their allies. However, it was clear to the pod members that these creatures were not friends. I was disappointed the author chose not to use bounding as a major factor in the story. Other than traveling to the planet, bounding could have been totally left out without any impact to the other events. Jasper's little sister Addy was a huge addition to the cast, as she kept forcing herself into pod activities. Her presence really bugged Lucy and created friction throughout much of the plot. Jasper's claustrophobia and Marco's fear of snakes also created some issues.The last chapter left Mira and Jasper in a very surprising setting with many questions to be answered. Overall, I loved this book, and I'm looking forward to the next one. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five Kingdoms #5: Time Jumpers by Brandon Mull

Time Jumpers (Five Kingdoms, #5)My name is Cole, and it's inevitable that Ramarro will escape the Void and conquer all the kingdoms. My powers are slowly coming back since I've left the echolands, and I am the only one who might have a chance at stopping him. With the help of a Wayminder named Violet, I'm able to instantly travel anywhere in the Five Kingdoms with my friends Mira, Jace, and Twitch. We're searching for two Grand Shapers named Lorenzo and Kendo Rattan who are rumored to still be alive. Kendo created the Void, so he may have knowledge that can help us. However, Owandell controls the Enforcers, and they're searching for us everywhere. Now I've learned that I must travel back in time to get the information we need to stop Ramarro, if the information ever existed at all. 

I highly recommend you read all the other books in the series, or this one won't make much sense. A creative twist in the series is that different characters have unique powers, but they only work in specific kingdoms. Leave the kingdom, and the power leaves too. Cole has the ability to connect with other characters' powers and can neutralize or enhance them. Books dealing with time travel always need to address the paradox of characters' actions in the past changing events in the future. This book indicates characters might be able to change things in the past, but those actions become part of the past and don't affect the future. Confusing? It's really not. Previous books in series saw characters scattered across the Five Kingdoms, but Cole starts to reconnect with all of them. He's even able to reunite several princesses with their mother, although they all disappear. The castle personnel believe Cole and his friends are the kidnappers, so this adds another conflict to the mix. Ironically, the king and queen both endorse Cole's efforts, so it's strange to him become a suspect in their disappearances. Overall, this book was a nice conclusion to an exciting series.

Ninja Librarians #1: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey

The Accidental Keyhand (The Ninja Librarians #1)My name is Dorrie, and my brother Marcus and I have literally fallen into Petrarch’s Library. The lybrarians ensure the survival of free thought by traveling back to key moments in history. Keyhands are carefully trained to open portals in time, but somehow I opened a new one from the 21st century. Marcus accidentally tore a page from a History of Histories book, and it’s now missing. This can be disastrous if The Foundation finds it! The head of security Francesco already thinks Marcus and I are working for them, and I’m afraid my brother may have dropped the page in Ancient Greece! We seem to be keeping more and more secrets from everyone, and it feels like it's too late to come clean with the truth. But if we don't tell someone, history may be changed forever.

This book told a fun story about two kids being dropped into an unbelievable situation. The lybrarians are taught the basics of the job, but they also learn other necessary skills to protect free thought throughout history. Lucky for Dorrie, sword fighting is one of those skills, and her training became an important subplot. An early conflict involved a duel for honor that found her very unprepared. On the other hand, her brother's main focus was on getting a date with a cute instructor. The missing page became the main conflict and developed into a mystery with many suspects. The kids thought they knew what had happened but later realized the page must have been stolen. The thief wasn't revealed until near the end, and this event kicked off an exciting adventure toward the climax. I first heard about this book in a Goodreads discussion group. Overall, I enjoyed the novelty of the story and recommend you give it a shot. 

Magic, Madness, and Mischief by Kelly McCullough

Magic, Madness, and MischiefMy name is Kalvan, and I don’t suppose you’ve ever met a talking red hare. Sparx is teaching me about my life as a child of fire, which I knew nothing about until he showed up. I can control the element, although I almost burned down some woods by blowing fire out of my mouth. I told Sparx about a strange feeling I had down in my stepfather Oscar’s basement that really shook me up. With my friend Dave’s help, we explored the room and found something hidden in a model of the city. Sparx says it’s ancient, deadly, and a powerful enemy to people like us. We also discovered a terrifying secret about Oscar... the Winter King is living in my house and has a plan to rule forever!

This book was okay but didn't knock my socks off. I most enjoyed Sparx's character as the sarcastic sidekick. He had been alive for a very long time and showed little patience for Kalvan's lack of knowledge regarding the power of fire. He was an impatient mentor who didn't have answers for all of Kalvan's questions. As in many middle grade novels, Kalvan was just discovering his powers but was forced to face overwhelming odds. Using Kalvan's stepfather as the main antagonist was a nice twist and complicated life at home. The story was set during the approaching winter season which provided Oscar with even more strength. Kalvan had a strong affection for his mother and was very protective of her. Despite her emotional issues, the mother's fond words for Kalvan were key motivators for her son. Again, I enjoyed the book but imagine some other readers might enjoy it more. It's a matter of taste, and I just felt like a little something was missing.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Mad Wolf's Daughter by Diane Magras

The Mad Wolf's DaughterMy name is Drest, and my father and brothers have been taken prisoner. They'll be hanged in five days unless I can save them. I'm hoping to exchange an injured knight named Emerick for them, but we have many miles to travel. Emerick didn't believe me when I said he was injured by one of his fellow knights, and I suspect there's more going on here. I know how to wield my brother's sword, and I can hear advice from the others in my head. They've both been immeasurably important, as I've encountered many different people during my trek. Some of them have great respect for my father, The Mad Wolf, while his name enrages others. Some say he's helped and protected them, while other people say he's poisoned and murdered. However, I trust my father and will do all I can to save him and my brothers. 

The Mad Wolf's Daughter didn't read like a regular speculative fiction book. The most fantastic aspect was when Drest heard her brothers' voices in her mind. This adventure told the story of a young girl who discovered conflicting truths about her family. Her father's reputation preceded her, but she unknowingly created a reputation of her own. Many people expected her to be barbaric but were shown compassion instead. She was fiercely loyal to her new friends. Emerick was clearly a foe in the beginning, but she nursed him and helped him cover the many miles of travel. She rescued a boy and a witch along the way and spared the life of a bandit who would have killed her. There were episodes of action when Drest was rescuing someone or was defending herself. Her relationship with Emerick morphed into friendship, as was expected, but it became a little more complicated again near the story's climax. I assume there will be a sequel to the book due to its resolution. Suspicions were confirmed, and other hidden stories were revealed. 

Brass Monkeys by Terry Caszatt

Brass MonkeysMy name is Eugene Wise, and you must admit I look nothing like a hero. I'll spare you the details, but my new friends think I'm the savior of all school kids across the country. A crazy woman named Ming has taken kids down to Monkeyopolis where she's going to suck out their Amberlight, stealing their hopes and dreams. A strange man said I can stop her by giving a red book to McGinty. However, I don't know where he is, and Ming has all of her Stormies searching for me! I need to save Harriet and my other friends who've already been changed into monkey drones. The only plan I can think of is to sneak into Ming's fortress, sneak through the sewer pipes, and sneak into a secret cave where McGinty might be hiding. Sounds crazy, but "C'mon, me, don't give up now!"

If you don't have a tolerance for silliness, you won't enjoy this book, as kids traveling to the underground world become monkeys once they arrive. There are many references to items and ideas found in schools that are used in strange, new ways. Ming's guards use weapons that fire old tests and erasers. The tests will cause you to become terribly depressed, while the erasers will wipe out all of your memories. Buildings and vehicles are made from old desks and chalkboards. Despite the unusual plot, the book describes an entertaining adventure with an unassuming protagonist. Eugene doesn't think he's anything special, yet he's constantly talking himself into performing brave deeds. He won't leave his friends and allies in danger, which sometimes created bigger problems. The story includes many references to classic middle grade literature, and music plays a very important role in the plot. Eugene thinks he's carrying a dinged-up trumpet for courage, but it becomes an "instrumental" weapon used to save the day. It sounded like a sequel might be expected, but I can't find one written by this author.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Wizardmatch by Lauren Magaziner

WizardmatchMy name is Lennie, and I couldn’t believe my mom chose Michael to compete against our cousins in the Wizardmatch! Poppop told her to pick him, but she should have stood up for me! It's so unfair! I deserve to be the next Prime Wizard, and I need to do something big. I found Uncle Humphrey secretly living in the borderlands, and he's the only person who believes in me. He's going to become my mentor and teach me how to master my power of invisibility. But the Wizardmatch is still unfair, and it's got all the relatives at each other's throats. I can't even stand to be around my little brother anymore. My uncle has a plan that might solve everything, but it will require me to use my power in ways I've never imagined. 

It was strange to see a grandfather being such a jerk toward his kids and grandkids. He was self-centered, superficial, and played favorites. Even though Lennie was the protagonist, she was clearly motivated by anger and jealousy. I didn't have a lot of empathy for her character, as her actions often didn't make her much better than her grandfather. She behaved in a selfish manner despite mentioning some unfairness to her older cousins and females. Her temper drove her behavior, but it was nice to see more positive qualities emerge when her plans fell apart. Be prepared for some goofiness, as the magic was used in unusual ways. Poppop's estate included a moat made of chocolate pudding, a cemetery made of goulash, and one floor in the castle was made of jelly. One cousin was able to eat things and cough up birds, while another had the ability to control his hair. Overall, the story was entertaining and created a fun tale. It provided a positive message regarding respect and family relationships.